Why a Chicago Sun-Times TV Critic Faked a Review

Paige Wiser was fired for reviewing a Glee song she didn't see, but she had her reasons

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The Chicago Sun-Times has fired its television critic, Paige Wiser, after she made up part of a review of a live performance of Glee songs. Wiser left the show early after her son fell off a chair and her daughter threw up in a cotton candy bag, but she filed a review that included a mention of one song that didn't happen, and described another song she didn't see. Wiser has owned up to the mistake, telling the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal, "there's no excuse for doing something stupid." She might not have had an excuse, but she did have a few reasons. Unfortunately, in hindsight, most of them seem like equally persuasive as reasons not to fudge her reporting. Anyway, here's what it seems was going on:

She was trying to come back from a rough patch at work: Wiser told Rosenthal, "There's a lot of running on the treadmill and losing ground, and I'm exhausted," as she tried to juggle her kids and her career. Time Out Chicago's Robert Feder elaborated on some of her recent difficulties:

Wiser said she’d been under intense pressure, citing chronic headaches, a car accident in which she’d broken a finger, and an experience with vertigo while covering Oprah Winfrey’s May 17 Farewell Spectacular from a skybox at the United Center. As a result of that experience, she felt she’d disappointed her colleagues by failing to carry out her assignment properly that night.

Of course, if she was already on thin ice, she probably oughtn't have done something that, by itself, could have gotten her fired.

There was precedent: In 1986, Sun-Times reviewer Patricia Smith covered an Elton John concert and in her review described an outfit John did not wear. According to the American Journalism Review, she got off with a lecture and a suspension (though Smith was later fired from the Boston Globe for fabricating her work). Perhaps Wiser thought if she got caught that precedent would hold, but as she later told Feder, the Sun-Times is already in trouble, and it couldn't afford not to fire her. “They’re laying off people left and right — good, good people,” she said after her firing Thursday. “So to go easy on somebody like me, I just don’t think they could do it.”

She was in a bind because of her kids: It's tough to be a working parent, and Wiser at first didn't want to take the Glee gig because she was caring for her kids. But she told NBC Chicago that taking them was her editor's idea, and the kids were why she couldn't stay.

"I was told my kids' cutesy reactions would be welcome, so I brought along my 6- and 7-year-old. Jack nearly decapitated himself falling off his seat, and Audrey started murmuring "I'm going to throw up" 10 songs into the set. I made her stick it out for three more songs, saying "This is Mommy's job!," but she looked so green I finally shoved the half-full cotton candy bag at her to throw up in, and hustled her out of there. What I should have done was written that I had to leave early, but I didn't want to let the paper down, so I tried to make the review seem complete by including the encore "Friday" that I'm familiar with. Big mistake. I didn't see it there, so it was a lie."

The same NBC post mentioned that Wiser's colleague, columnist Neil Steinberg, posted a note of support on her Facebook page: "Your colleagues here will miss you and the paper, of course, will be the poorer for your absence." But not all are as supportive. Writer and Chicago native Kate Harding tweeted, "[T]hink of all the talented, honest people I know who would kill for jobs held by people who make shit up (or plagiarize)." Well, there's one open right now.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.